Eating a performance-enhancing diet isn’t easy, and for many athletes and active people nutrition is their missing link. If that’s your case, here are a few ABCs to get you started on the path to winning with good nutrition.
Always eat breakfast. It’s the meal of champions. Within three hours of waking, fuel-up for a high-energy day. Not hungry in the morning? Trade evening snacks for a nice breakfast the next day.
Breakfast of champions? I vote for whole grain cereal + milk + fruit – an easy, wholesome, carb/protein combination.
Carbohydrates are essential to fuel-up and refuel your muscles. Do not stay away from pasta, potato, bread, bagels and other carbs that have wrongly been deemed “fattening.” Excess fat gets easily converted into body fat – but not carbs.
The ABCs of Sports Nutrition
Dehydration needlessly slows you down. So plan to drink extra fluids before you exercise. Your kidneys require about 45 to 90 minutes to process fluids. Allow time to tank up, eliminate the excess, and then drink again before your workout.
Energy bars are more about convenience than necessity. Bananas, yogurt, fig cookies and granola bars offer convenient fuel at a fraction of the price. But if you prefer the convenience of bars, enjoy the ones made with familiar ingredients such as dried fruits, nuts and whole grains.
Food is fuel – not the “fattening enemy” as some weight-conscious athletes believe. If you obsess over food and weight, find a local sports dietitian at www.SCANdpg.org.
Gatorade and other sports drinks are designed to be used by athletes during extended exercise, not as a lunch or snack beverage.
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar – as characterized by light-headedness, fatigue and inability to concentrate) is preventable. To eliminate an afternoon energy lag/drop in blood sugar, enjoy a hearty snack between lunch and dinner.
Iron-rich foods, needed to prevent anemia, include beef and dark meat chicken (thigh, leg). If you eat none of those, choose iron-fortified breakfast cereals (Raisin Bran, Wheaties). Read cereal labels and note that all natural brands (Kashi, granola) offer little iron.
Junk food can fit into your sports diet in small amounts. That is, you don’t have to have a “perfect diet” to have a good diet. Target a diet that is 90 percent quality foods and, if desired, 10 percent foods with marginal nutritional value, e.g. sports drinks (refined sugar), birthday cake, chips, etc.
Keep track of calories if you want to lose weight. You’ll reduce body fat only if you create a calorie deficit. A popular website for tracking food intake is www.fitday.com. Adding on exercise can help with fat loss, if the exercise contributes to a calorie
deficit. However, the more you exercise, the more you might eat.
Lifting weights is the key to building muscles. For energy to lift weights, you need extra carbohydrates. To support muscular growth, eat adequate but not excessive protein. Each muscle-building meal should mostly consist of carbs with protein on the side ¬– as opposed to mostly protein with minimal carbs.
Muscles store carbs as glycogen. Glycogen depletion is associated with fatigue. Along with each ounce of glycogen, muscles store about three ounces of water. Expect to gain two to four pounds of weight from water intake when you load up on carbs.
Never eat untried engineered sports food before an important competition. You may discover that it settles poorly and hurts your performance. The website of competitive events indicate what foods and fluids will be available on the course. Find out in advance, so you can experiment during training.
Olive oil is heart-healthy, reduces inflammation, and helps absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. Although excess calories from oil (and other fats) are fattening, a little bit of olive oil on salads or for cooking adds taste and health benefits.
Protein is an important part of a sports diet, needed for recovery from hard workouts. But protein should be the accompaniment and carbs the foundation of the recovery meal. Make that a carb shake with a little protein, instead of a protein shake with a little carb.
Quality nutrition is found in natural foods. Be surely, there are some apple cores and banana peels mixed in with the litter from your engineered foods and energy bar wrappers.
Rest is an important part of a training program. Your muscles need time to heal. Plan one or two days with little or no exercise per week. Expect to feel just as hungry on days with no exercise. Depleted muscles require extra food to refuel, too.
Sweet cravings are a sign you’ve gotten too hungry. Experiment with doubling your breakfast and lunch and halving your dinner. You’ll have more energy, better workouts and far less desire for sweets.
Thinner does not equate to being a better athlete if the cost of being thin is skimpy meals and poorly fueled muscles. Focus on being fit and healthy, not just sleek and slim but starving.
Urine that is dark colored and smelly indicates you need to drink more fluid. If you are well hydrated, you will eliminate pale-colored urine every two to four hours.
Vegetarian athletes need to include a substantial portion of plant protein at each meal. Peanut butter on a bagel, hummus with pita, and beans in chili are just a few suggestions.
Weight is more than a matter of will power. Genetics play a role as well. Forcing your body to be too thin is abusive.
Xtra vitamins are best found the “all natural” way: In dark, colorful vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, peppers, tomatoes and carrots, or in fresh fruits such as oranges, grapefruit, cantaloupe, strawberries and kiwi. Chow down!
You can optimally fuel your engines. The trick is: Don’t get too hungry. When you’re too hungry, you’ll likely grab the handiest but not necessarily the healthiest food around.
Zippy and zingy – that’s how you’ll feel when you fuel with premium nutrition. Eat well and enjoy your energy!
For personalized nutrition help, consult with a Registered Dietitian who is a board certified specialist in sports dietetics (CSSD). Use the referral network at www.SCANdpg.org to locate a local food coach.
Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD (Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics) counsels both casual and competitive athletes in her private practice in Newton, MA (617-383-6100). Her bestselling book, “Sports Nutrition Guidebook” and food guides for new runners, marathoners, cyclists and soccer players are available at www.nancyclarkrd.com. See also sportsnutritionworkshop.com for more information about upcoming and online workshops.
The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.